Why do we watch sport?
Why is it that we watch sport? Why is it that we find it perfectly acceptable to put our lives on hold to catch a match happening in a part of the world we might never visit, played by men we might never meet? What is it that makes us embrace the dreams and struggles of another man to an extent that we sometimes forget our own? What does sport mean to us?
Is it entertainment after a hard week’s work? A way to let off steam and take a break from all the challenges of real life? Do we perceive it as a gripping story line which, with its intense characters and thrilling twists, captures us in its unreal, imaginative world? How then would you explain the alarm that goes off at 3’o clock on a Monday morning so that we can catch the toss of a Test match? Surely we don’t deprive ourselves of sleep and sabotage our work performance, so essential for that promotion on the horizon, only to catch up on some entertainment, however great the actors, however enthralling the narrative. Moreover, why would we even care about the concept of ‘live action’ then? It should make no difference if we watch the match as it happens or in the luxury of a Saturday afternoon. After all, we don’t insist that we watch the scenes from our movies as the actors shoot them, and it certainly does not bother us that our particularly jobless friends who got tickets for the Friday morning show already know the ending of the movie. Why is it any different with a tennis match?
Maybe we have an intellectual relationship with the sport. Maybe we watch the sport as we study an interesting subject. We do try and understand the art of an out-swinger while we watch a perfectly shaped delivery from Dale Steyn. We do try and decipher Roger Federer’s grip when he lands one of those accurate first serves that flies past a clueless opponent. Maybe we are selfish at the very core, only watching the sport so that we can get a free lesson which helps us have a more satisfying game the next time we are on court ourselves, or for that sense of having understood a subject that most haven’t, and the healthy boost of ego that comes with it. But an experience that’s truly intellectual is one of rationality and reasoning, where then is the place for emotion? How would you explain the tears after the 2011 World Cup victory, the anger at Berdych for refusing to shake hands with Almagro after the 2012 Australian Open encounter, or the sheer jolt of joy that follows a perfect cover drive or a precise down-the-line backhand? Surely, if sport were to stand for an intellectual experience, I should be getting better grades and having much more fun in college.
Or maybe it isn’t about our individual experience at all. Maybe we follow sports as it is an integral part of our identity thrust upon us by our nationality. Maybe we watch sport for the same sense of pride that accompanies the many glorious stories of our country which we grudgingly read about in the history lessons. It is perhaps a way of reinforcing our deep sense of nationality. That explains all our hatred towards the Australian cricketers or the special status we give the India-Pakistan matches, however unbalanced the two sides might be. But how then would you reason for all those facebook cover photos of the truest Indians, born and brought up here, declaring ‘You shall never walk alone’ or ‘mes que un club’ or of those who have ‘Meet Rooney’ is their list of ‘top 10 things to do in my life.’ Sport surely must transcend nationality. The satisfaction that comes after your favourite club, somewhere in Europe, wins a match might never be the same as the one that follows the national team’s victory, but there is no denying the large number of people whose only bit of ‘sporting identity’ comes from a place they are in no way geographically related to.
Perhaps it’s a celebration of human skill and ability then? Of the joy of watching the perfection of an art form. A breathing, moving example of what human will and perseverance is capable of. That must be it. It explains the sense of awe and admiration that we have towards our athletes. We try and study them and imitate them, for we are deep down convinced we are capable of it too. We watch them for the same reason we are at times lost for hours in nature – for the seductive beauty. But how then would you explain prejudice? Why is it that we hate one and love the other? Why have there been instances where athletes have been stalked, and others stabbed? Why then does nationality matter? Are we so shallow to narrow down our admiration of genuine beauty by its nationality, race or gender? If it was only about perfection, would our pre-conceived ideas and notions come in the way?
So again, why is it that we watch sport? Why is it that we find it perfectly acceptable to put our lives on hold to catch a match happening in a part of the world that we might never visit, played by men we might never meet? What is it that makes us embrace the dreams and struggles of another man to an extent that we sometimes forget our own? What does sport mean to us?
The answer, like it does to all life’s great questions, perhaps lies within you. Maybe to you, it is one of the above, or a mix of a few or something entirely different; but almost certainly, what it means to you might not be the same as what it means to me. Maybe the question should after all have been ‘Why do you watch sport?’ Maybe it is a reflection of what you truly want in life. Maybe it tells you something about your own identity. Maybe you should now take some time to think.